Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tom Coburn's Campaign against Government Waste

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tom Coburn's Campaign against Government Waste

Article excerpt

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is a real-life Murray Blum.

Blum, played by Charles Grodin, is the president's accountant in the comedy "Dave," which I think of every time we have one of these spending dramas in Washington. In my favorite scene, President Dave Kovic, played by Kevin Kline, asks Blum to the White House for a budget-cutting session. Kovic wants to find $650 million in the budget to rescue the first lady's pet project, a homeless shelter. Blum breaks out some thick ledgers and a calculator, and they get to work. The homeless shelter is saved.

Yes, this is Hollywood, and yes, I realize that the U.S. government's deficit can't be erased by a couple of wonks pulling an all-nighter. But I confess to a weakness for the simple idea that the federal government shouldn't waste money, and that calling attention to that waste is a valuable service.

In 2011 and again last year, the folks at the Government Accountability Office issued thick reports detailing the opportunities for the government to reduce waste and save money. Together, the reports run to more than 700 pages.

Mr. Coburn loves to cite these reports, and has his own tales to tell: of the thousands of federal housing administrators in Oklahoma, for example -- including one for a town called Picher, which is a Superfund site and has been depopulated.

Add up all the programs like that and you end up with real money, Mr. Coburn says: about $364 billion. Even when his colleagues have the evidence in front of them that "one-third of what we do doesn't accomplish what it's supposed to," he said, they don't vote to "kill a program but to add another on top of it."

Mr. Coburn also goes after spending at the Pentagon, which he calls the "Department of Everything." There is the $1.5 million for beef jerky development; or the 127 programs to encourage high- school students to learn science, technology, engineering and math; or the iPhone application that lets you know when it's time for a coffee break. Cutting such programs could save almost $68 billion over 10 years.

The big money, of course, is in weapons programs. Mr. Coburn could save $18 billion over 10 years, he says, by cutting back and reorienting the Pentagon's various jet-fighter contracts. …

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